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Second place in South Africa before home for a while then off to Morocco

I dropped off my rental car to George airport on Monday morning getting ready for the flight to Johannesburg.  It's a good distance, approx 1200km some of the guys drive it, certainly the club fitter does and one of the caddys drives a van with our clubs, he charges by distance so this time it was approx 30 pounds, still buttons compared to Europe where its 90 euro.   It saves us hassle dragging the 30 kg bag and South African Airlines always charge excess for them, it's maybe only 50 quid but its the hassle of queuing at ticket sales which can take 30mins extra.
 
The location of the Tshwane open golf course is awkward for accommodation.  Its right between joburg and Pretoria staying in either is a 40min  journey, or you can stay closer with less to do.  The tour got us all in a city lodge at lynwood a suburb of Pretoria, it worked out well as there were good restaurants and a mall right beside the hotel.  It beat last year when the official hotel was a series of guest houses all over the area with fixed menus and limited facilities.  I went up on Monday and played 9 with Kevin Phelan, a young rookie on tour.  At q school he was on his last hole needing a par to get his card, he hit a rescue club in and made birdie, in that situation it says a lot about him.  Kevin lives half the year in Florida, he grew up there, his dad went to the US as a pro squash player.  The course was in good condition, better than last year.  The tournament has grown in stature and had a stronger field.  The course is on a big estate with approx 1000 properties around it and Ernie Els did the design.  They struggled financially until Investec, the Sunshine Tours sponsor came and took over to finish the estate. It's a mammoth walk; greens to the next tee can be 100 yards on some holes, and its  hilly. Officially the longest course in tour history.  With the altitude of 1600m it felt like we had played 15holes or so its hard to get a good gulp of air!
  
Tuesday was just chipping and putting for 3hours in the morning.  I didn't let myself hit any balls as short game is always more important and as this was 5 weeks outta 6 I tried to save the energy.  I did my putting drill of 50 in a row from 5 feet and a new drill from 40ft 2putts for par, 20ft birdie and 6ft par save 5 times in a row.  This is what you get on the course generally.  I managed 2 under beating my previous 1 over best, its important to have challenges when you practice to switch the brain on or you just get lazy. 

 I wasn't in the Proam which was later that day it gets very busy so we planned to visit the lion park.  Myself Gerry and Stephen Byrne (the bray lighthouse) Kevin's caddy went.  You drive past a big slum on the way, tin huts, the poverty really makes you appreciate what you have even though we all moan about not having enough. The  closest I had been to lions was at Kruger, but its never been very close, so I was hoping to see more. It cost the fortune of a tenner to get in and drive around in your car through the different gated areas.  In the first couple we were 20yards from a few lying down, Gerry got out with his camera.  Then we got lucky and got some movement, a white male lion walked up to us a yard away from the car, I was scared briefly as this thing could have torn the car apart and I told Gerry to drive off, but the male just strolled along beside us as we drove. Last year a Japanese tourist got outta the car and went to pet the lions, he got malled and killed, I was trying not to think about that!  At the end they have cubs, incredible 4month old lions, we stroked them and the lady showed us their teeth and claws huge already.  They only stay  untill they are 6months old then they are too big.  It was thoroughly enjoyable and much better than being stuck at the course as we still had Wednesday to do more work.

 Wednesday was 9 holes with Pete Lawrie; Blandy and Stuart Manley joined us.  Peter has been working on swing changes.  He wants a more right to left ball flight and it looked good.  After I hit balls for a while , just wedges to adjust to the  altitude, we also got the yardage book in metres again to help with the 10% adjustment.  Then we had some more putting drills and chipping.  I went to get physio from Marnus after to inflict pain on my legs after hiking up the hills last week.  I brought my gym gear as there is a decent gym at course and I did my program which helps me get away from the rounded golf posture we all develop.  It felt a bit like Groundhog Day, having dinner at the same restaurant every night, but the steaks were good.  i also tried the South Africans version of vegetables which is chicken! Tough thing about tour eating out every night in the same places, I really get sick of it.
 
With the travel time my 8am tee off was a 530 bus to course.  I started really well 5 birdies in a row from the 13th, the main difference was my putting just a little bit better striking the ball resulting in a better roll, practice was definitely paying off.  I was leading the tournament and then lost concentration a touch on the back 9, I hadn't slept great and was mentally sloppy on the back  9.  Golf punishes you and lunch didn't taste as good after 69 thinking it should have been 67. Physio then rest as no point in hitting balls if you're not learning.
 
i was teeing of at 1pm on Friday. I felt more rested but couldn't get my tempo until the 8th with good chip for birdie and solid par on 9 , the toughest hole on the course. Then it clicked, which is rare in golf.  My rhythm was great and my putts solid, I was just trying to get a comfy space inside the cutt which was 3under when I got to 5 then it felt easier. I felt amazingly calm and in control, its that "zone" that we rarely get into although Tiger is always in it!  I was trying not think about the tour record as I did 6 then 7 birdies in a row and a lip out for 8 was a bummer as that's European tour record.  But it was a milestone for me and gave me the belief that I'm working on the correct stuff.  I've got Johnny Foster and Justin Parsons to thank for their coaching structure! 

 Saturday was weird weather it looked stormy but only drizzle came.  We had a warm rain on and off with no thunder to suspend play.  I started slow but built my rhythm during the day, golfs a 4 to 5 hour marathon.  Most importantly I scored well it wasn't my best striking day, my partner was in 2nd place then fell away on the last few.  Doing media after the rounds confirms you're where you want to be, I never see it as hassle. 

 I played in the final group with Ross Fisher on Sunday its where you want to be. Last time was Russia for me.  We had weird weather again, heavy rain at times but no thunder.  I started lovely kept my width and tempo and eagled the 4th.  Ross was average with his chips and I closed his 5 shot lead to 2 after 9.  Ross drives it great; long and high and very repeatable left to right flight, its part of why he has been successful. He's a good guy also saying good shot to me when it was due. 

 After a really good birdie on 11 I don't know if it was adrenaline leaving me but I felt I was losing concentration and between clubs on the 12th I lapsed for a second and took the pin on and pushed it slightly.  My line was further left but I lost focus that's all it took to end up in the water and a double bogey making Ross's job a lot easier.   Apart from that it was a very solid 18 holes with an unlucky big lip out on 18 costing  me 40 thousand but you can't think like that.  I pushed him that was the main thing and proved to myself my games getting better.  It's my first ever 2nd place on the European tour and a nice cheque to pay for all the big expenses of long haul early season travel and leave some in the bank.

  I got home the  first time since Christmas yesterday afternoon.  It's great to see the girls again, Erin is mad with energy around the house. It's a busy week, but looking forward to Bev's cooking. Next stop is Morocco on Monday, great course and venue, I'm looking forward to going back to a course I've performed well on in the past.